This is the second installment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography. She is still quite young and not sure exactly what is going on in her family and is quite confused.
RETURN TO BISHOP AUCKLAND
My first heartbreak was when my adored Grand-da was killed driving an ammunition train. This happened in 1917 and I do remember the elegant funeral that was given for my Grand-da. After the funeral, we returned to 29 Blue Row in Bishop Auckland, England. My mother was able to get a job at Doggart’s which was a department store in the village.
We were enrolled in church schools. Mine was St. Anne’s, a school for girls. My brothers were in Barrington School for Boys. The education was very good but the teachers were very strict. We spent long hours in school, because, due to the war, our mothers were all working. The teachers were very quick to ”cane” us for any minor problem, which meant being hit very hard on the hand with a ruler.
I suppose life was difficult but everyone lived the same way; so if food was scarce and life hard, we really did not dwell on it, as every family who had their men fighting in the war, were in the same predicament.
The men were still away and the casualties were enormous. My father spent most of his four years in the Far East so he had no leaves at all.
The flu epidemic broke out and between 1917 and 1918 it was awful. Every day, it seemed, there was a funeral taking place and my mother worked very hard with Dr. Wardell, the village doctor. He made his rounds on a three-wheeled bicycle with a sidecar. There seemed to be illness in every home. My brothers and I constantly wore camphor cubes around our necks because it was supposed to ward off the flu germs.
The death toll was awful and because so many people died, they were buried in mass graves in St. Anne’s Church Cemetery. When the flu epidemic finally ended, my mother was given recognition because of her endless work with old Dr. Wardell. It was a miracle that our family escaped the deadly flu germs.
In 1918 my father came home and that was the beginning of a very unhappy time in my life.
The return of the man should have been a joyous event but the men had been changed by the horrible war and the local pub was filled every night, as they like to congregate with each other. They seemed to resent restrictions of family ties and were cruel and insensitive to their wives and children.
I was the oldest and now I was seven years old. My mother depended on me to help. My father started to drink very heavily but he did get a job with a local brewery. I remember he drove a huge brewery wagon pulled by four, large, Clydesdale horses. He had been a horse soldier in the Army so he was familiar with them.
My father did not like my two brothers and me as we got on his nerves. I learned later that he had been shell-shocked and gassed while he was fighting in France trying to get a gas mask on his horse. The Army orders were that you put the mask on the horse first and then you put on your own. At that time, mustard gas was used and it was lethal.
The population started to increase. It was so good to see “new babies” on Blue Row. Poor Dr. Wardell was again very busy delivering babies.
My mother never had any more children because after her delivery of my youngest brother, Arthur, the doctor told her she would not be able to conceive, as she was so badly torn during delivery. Frankly, I think my mother was relieved she could not have any more children. My father had developed into a very bad tempered man with a violent disposition.
A good percentage the man in Bishop Auckland worked in the coal mines and they would all congregate around the water pump on Blue Row to clean up. They seemed to be more relaxed with each other than with their own families.
My father was still with the brewery and we tried to keep out of his way when he was home. My mother still did the laundry for “Durham School for Young Ladies”.
Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting letters from 1941. Lad is in Trumbull, working a Producto, in Bridgeport, where 100 % of their production was war-related. He is concerned about his Draft Status. Dan, Ced and Dick are all in Fairbanks, Alaska, worrying about their Draft Status also. Grandpa and Dave are keeping the home fires burning.